Literary Criticism: Does Fiction Reflect the
Writer’s Life?
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The Person on the Page
Using Their Lives
Writing from Experience
Writing from Imagination
The Person on the Page
One day your friend tells you about a book he just
finished reading.
This guy went fishing with his
younger cousin, and they ended
up getting attacked by a bear.
The guy got away and made it
back to the road, but his cousin
didn’t. He just left his cousin
out there in the woods, can you
believe that?
The Person on the Page
Then your friend makes a common—but often
false—assumption about the story’s author . . .
Man, if I did something like
that, I sure wouldn’t write
about it for the whole world to
read. I’d feel too bad about it—
kind of like a coward, you
What has your friend assumed
about the author?
The Person on the Page
Is the narrator the same as the person writing the
Sometimes the answer is yes. Some authors write
about themselves.
Sometimes the answer is no.
The character
are not alike.
and the author
[End of Section]
Using Their Lives
Writers often use parts of their real lives—people,
places, situations, and things—as parts of made-up
The writer of a story about a girl who
learns to fly might set the story in
his own neighborhood.
A writer might base the personality
of a Wild West sheriff on her uncle.
Using Their Lives
Gary Paulsen was never stranded alone in the
wilderness like the hero of his book Hatchet.
However, his own adventures training sled dogs
made their way into his novel Dogsong.
Using Their Lives
It can be interesting to connect what we know
about a writer’s life with his or her work.
Why does one writer make all her
teenage characters outsiders and
Why does another seem especially
interested in the judicial system?
Only the writer can answer
these questions for sure.
[End of Section]
Writing from Experience
At one time almost all the books published in
America were written by people of European
Mark Twain
Dorothy M. Johnson
Edgar Allan Poe
Writing from Experience
Now you can read about the experiences of
Americans from all backgrounds in books written by
people from those backgrounds.
Virginia Driving
Hawk Sneve
Christopher Paul Curtis
Amy Tan
Writing from Experience
In their stories, you can read about the lives of
Native Americans,
African Americans,
and Chinese Americans.
[End of Section]
Writing from Imagination
Although experience is an important part of an
author’s writing, imagination is also crucial.
Writing from Imagination
Can a person who spent her whole life far from the
sea write about the ocean?
Can a grown woman write from the point of view
of a little boy? What do you think?
Writing from Imagination
Many writers have written brilliant, convincing
books about things they have never experienced.
science fiction
In fact, some types of fiction always require the
writer to think beyond his or her experience.
[End of Section]
Let’s Try It
A Smart Cookie
Sandra Cisneros
I could’ve been somebody, you know? my
mother says and sighs. She has lived in this
city her whole life. She can speak two
languages. She can sing an opera. She knows
how to fix a TV. But she doesn’t know which
subway train to take to get downtown. I hold
her hand very tight while we wait for the right
train to arrive.
She used to draw when she had time.
Now she draws with a needle and thread,
little knotted rosebuds, tulips made of silk
1. Is the main
character the
2. Who is the
Let’s Try It
Someday she would like to go to the ballet.
Someday she would like to see a play. She
borrows opera records from the public library
and sings with velvety lungs powerful as
morning glories.
Today while cooking oatmeal she is
Madame Butterfly until she sighs and points
the wooden spoon at me. I could’ve been
somebody, you know? Esperanza, you go to
school. Study hard. That Madame Butterfly
was a fool. She stirs the oatmeal. Look at my
comadres [friends]. She means Izaura whose
husband left and Yolanda whose husband is
dead. Got to take care all your own, she says
shaking her head.
3. Do you think
the mother’s
feelings about
her life are felt
only by
Let’s Try It
Then out of nowhere:
Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps
you down. You want to know why I quit
school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes. No
clothes, but I had brains.
Yup, she says disgusted, stirring again. I
was a smart cookie then.
4. What
experience is
addressed on
this page?
On Your Own
In your reading you have
almost certainly found a
special writer whose stories
you love.
Favorite titles:
What he/she writes
As the school year goes on, about:
keep records of your favorite How stories show
reading experiences on
notecards like the one to the
right. You can find answers
to the last three items by
reading about the writer’s
[End of Section]
Literary Criticism: Does Fiction Reflect the
Writer’s Life?
The End

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